Build true trust in virtual work environments

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Establish trust and connection in the modern work environment.

Source: Unsplash/Annie Spratt

The importance of trust in the workplace is well documented. Trust, unlike general goodwill, is more than just finding colleagues you like to work with. Trust doesn’t just make us feel good. It changes our behavior. Trust has even been shown to cause chemical reactions. A study discussed in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago showed the impact trust has on oxytocin levels.

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In the workplace, trust has been reported to significantly increase energy and productivity, and reduce stress. Historically, we manifest trust in the workplace over time through emotional transactions large and small. We lend his $1 to a colleague who wants something from the vending machine. Our new boss has let us carry out a big project. But those transactions (even for $1 worth!) reveal the trust that has already occurred. How was trust established? Often it’s in the in-between moments, the small interactions we have with each other throughout the day, usually not about the work itself, and sometimes without words. And once we all worked in the field, those moments came more easily and naturally.

How do you build trust at work, even outside of work?

Many of us now work from home at least part of the time. Even if you go to the office, chances are some of your time will be spent on Zoom calls with team members or bosses who aren’t physically present. It is much more difficult to spend time in between with someone. We refer to this as the transaction cost of virtual meeting efficiency. We chatted as we walked down the hallway together to get to the meeting. We sat together at the meeting and waited for the late arrivals. Someone was talking about what they watched on Netflix the night before. Now, I jump on the phone at a designated time, mute the call while I wait, and turn off my camera to do something else (while on the call, of course). And no one borrows a single dollar for a vending machine. But that doesn’t mean trust isn’t needed.

In a virtual work environment, trust is more important than ever.

We may have mastered working from home in a technical sense, but we’re still adapting to building relationships and meeting all the emotional and psychological needs that come with working from home. . Being able to work as productively at home as in the office depends, in part, on being able to build the same trust that is gained in face-to-face interactions. How do you do that with your teammates and managers? One is to make the most of the time you spend together in the office. If possible, agree on a schedule where multiple team members are in the office on the same days of the week, or at least one day a week. If that’s not possible, try arranging overlapping days with your boss separately.

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In addition to making the most of your time at the office, don’t underestimate the benefits of incorporating virtual “down time” into your day. Although it doesn’t happen that naturally, consider setting up a one-on-one “coffee run” with your coworker and her. This will result in her sharing her 15-minute virtual break with her teammates. There’s no need to talk about work all the time.

Imagine the same dynamic of walking to the nearest coffee shop and back. This is usually easy if you already know the person. All you have to do is reach out and tell them you miss a quick chat. But even if you’re working at a new company or trying to get to know colleagues working elsewhere, be upfront. Most people will probably respond positively. If not, don’t force it.

Trust can impact your professional development.

Many people changed jobs during the pandemic. Many college graduates are just entering the market. Gen Z had the least work experience before the pandemic and is understandably more interested in working in an office. For both groups, being fully or partially remote particularly impacts their ability to build connections (and thus trust) with management. If your company doesn’t have a specific onboarding process reimagined for remote or hybrid work environments, you may need to create your own. Consider proactively asking your manager or human resources department to help you meet with key team members and other colleagues. Ask your boss for regular, brief check-ins and try to stick to them, even if some or most of them are virtual. Although it may seem eager and artificial, building these relationships will have an impact on your future career. Trust is as important as ever, but it can be harder to earn now than in the past. We all have to learn to master new methods.



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